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By Jed Boal
February 9, 2009

Unemployed workers need jobs, and businesses need spenders to turn the economy around. But store owners tell us business remains slow, and the numbers tell the same story.

“I think the feeling, nationally, is one of fear,” said store owner Sharon Loya told us. That fear does not spur spending at her high-end clothing store in Foothill Village.

“There’s not much predictability. It’s hard to say from day-to-day what you can expect anymore,” Loya said.

Shoppers want big sales, and maybe new clothes for spring, but they still aren’t buying much.

“People are being more conscious about what they spend. They aren’t spending quite as easily as they were a year ago,” Loya said.

President of the Utah Retail Merchants’ Association Jim Olsen said, “They’re staying more to the basic necessities and shying away from the elective, high-end, luxury-type purchases.”

Next door, business is actually up at Tutoring Toy. “We’re doing very well, and we’re very grateful for that because we know a lot of people can’t say the same thing,” store owner Bill Sartain said.

He says his loyal customers keep them going. He thinks shoppers may not cut as much when it comes to toys for children.

Next week, Sartain and his wife, Dianne, will attend the major trade show for the toy industry in New York. “We’re going to be more cautious in our approach to buying this year, in terms of buying quantities as well as price points,” Sartain said.

In the last half of 2008, Utah’s year-over-year sales tax revenue dropped for the first time in two decades — down 10 percent. “Numbers dropping that significantly and that consistently means we could be in for a long and protracted recession, unfortunately,” said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayer’s Association.

The numbers show what we already know. “When times are tough, people tighten their belts and do what’s necessary,” Van Tassell said.

Shopping habits shift to necessities, and that leaves store owners wondering about future sales. “Everyone is holding their breath to see what will happen next,” Loya said.

In one category, sales revenue exceeded expectations and rose 5 percent: Beer and cigarettes seem to be selling.